Interview with Steve Yankee, the Video Business Advisor, whose membership website is a collection of tips, tools and techniques to build your video business!
In this exclusive Mequoda interview, this former advertising executive, nee journalist, tells us how he draws on a lifetime of experience in marketing to create an online community for independent videographers and others in the video production business.
MEQUODA What is your educational and professional background?
SY Educational background, at this point, is pretty irrelevant and it was such a long time ago, I can barely remember! Suffice to say that I’ve been a newspaper editor, magazine columnist, ad agency creative director and principal, video writer/director/producer for over 35 years, and have racked up a pretty impressive track record as a creative marketer.
MEQUODA What best describes your position with www.VideoBusinessAdvisor.com?
SY I am a co-founder and executive director of The Video Business Advisor, which is an offshoot of my creative services and publishing company, Opin Marketing, Inc.
MEQUODA What’s it all about?
SY This is sort of an interesting story, Peter. I have written and published about 50 products—books, e-books, special reports, audiotapes and DVDs—that teach independent videographers and small video business owners how to really build their business profits. I’ve published an off-line (now email-based) newsletter, “Weekly Video Tips,” for several years as well.
I realized, a couple of years ago, that I was sitting on at least 200 articles that I’ve written for video professionals over the past 10 years, and thought it was time to build a subscription-based website to house all that information—as well as new materials, as well.
I started to research how to put together a password-based website and after determining it WAS feasible, I contacted about a dozen expert videographers to see what they thought of the idea.
One of my friends, Brad Flickinger, is well known in the industry for his instructional programs concerning video biographies; these programs teach beginning and expert videographers how to market and produce short video biographies for families who wish to preserve their history.
Brad wrote back and said “Wow! I’ve been thinking seriously about building a subscription-based site. How about we go into partnership? I’ll take care of the site structure and marketing—and YOU supply all the content?”
We had several discussions on the subject and decided it was a win-win situation, so we set our original site up, splitting the proceeds 50-50.
After about 10 months, Brad—ever the entrepreneur—called to tell me he was getting too busy with several other web-based projects and offered me his half of the Video Business Advisor. In return, of course, I’d have to take over the administration, exterior (and interior) site maintenance, marketing and the billing. In April of this year, I had the site’s public pages—the exterior—completely redesigned and rewritten, and relaunched the new front end on www.VideoBusinessAdvisor.com. And here we are.
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MEQUODA How long has your site been active and what is your subscription fee structure? What is included with a subscription?
SY The original site, located at www.myvideobusiness.com, went live in June, 2003. Memberships were then priced at $8/month, $22/quarter and $80/year. In June, 2004, I upped the membership rates to $12, $33 and $120, respectively. A subscription entitles the user to access all our archived articles—well over 250 of them—a big inventory of downloadable e-books, relevant software programs, video business, related images.
There’s also very active members-only forums, and every week, I host a popular hour-long online chat called “Monday Marketing Clinic.” In addition, members can purchase any of our store products—most are written and produced by me—for 20 percent or greater discounts off the retail prices.
I also crank out a little members-only email newsletter every Friday!
MEQUODA Now to the technical details. To build your site, what tools did you use, and how long did it take?
SY Brad was in charge of putting the site together originally. He went with Ramius Net’s Community Zero software package for the password protected, member’s only area.
For recurring billing and sales, he set up an account using Net Office Toolbox. This is an excellent all-round program that not only handles regular and recurring billing, but gives you great ad tracking software, an affiliate package, unlimited autoresponders and broadcasts, and the like.
I think he originally coded the front end of the site on a Mac, but when I took over the site this past June, I use Dreamweaver via a PC.
It took us about two months to build the site, initially, from the research through writing and coding the front end, and for me to edit and upload all my articles, downloads and other goodies for the members’ section.
MEQUODA Do members subscribe online through a secure server, and is the process built into your site or outsourced?
SY Yes, members subscribe online through a secure server. Again, the signup runs from our store into Net Office Toolbox, and we use Authorize.net as our gateway. So far, so good; the combination has proven to be relatively hassle-free.
MEQUODA What software programs or functions handle usernames and passwords, and is access immediate or do you provide access later via email?
SY Again, this is handled by Ramius’ server-based package. When someone joins the Video Business Advisor, they are taken to a special welcoming page where they are given instructions on how to set up their membership.
Access is immediate—IF they follow the instructions. Occasionally, I have to help a new member log in and set their password and username for the first time, but that’s rare.
MEQUODA How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new content?
SY It’s very easy to add new content with the Community Zero software. I click “Add,” cut and paste in a new article, usually working from Notepad, dress it up and click another button to get it on the site.
About 90 percent of all the editorial content comes from me, although I do use articles submitted by VBA members. And I always read what’s new from the article submission sites and Google news alerts to see if there’s something new that’s relevant to our members.
In the case of our members-only discussion forums, any member is free to post, and they use these forums quite a bit.
MEQUODA Has your site changed significantly since you launched it?
SY Yes, in the fact that we moved the front end to a new URL this year, and completely revamped the public pages. I think there’s about 100 pages now; we give non-members quite a few free articles to read and we’ve incorporated a search engine into the front end to make it easier to find articles of interest.
MEQUODA What’s the single greatest tool that helps you get your new content out every week?
SY I really enjoy helping people prosper. I love the video business and for the most part, our members are terrific people. It’s always a pleasure to be able to help them with their businesses. As I’ve written under deadlines for my entire business life, I rarely have problems getting at least one or two new articles or contributions posted to the site on a weekly basis.
MEQUODA Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?
SY Well, I like groveling and whining. Just kidding! Since taking over the site earlier this summer, I had to take a REAL crash course in online marketing. I use Google AdWords, am experimenting with Overture and a couple other PPC services.
The site is keyword-optimized, and rich in content—the latter is particularly important, in my opinion. I also have shared dozens of articles with other video-related websites, and since July, we’ve added over 200 reciprocal links.
I do a very modest print-based advertising program, mostly getting people to sign up for my ‘Weekly Video Tips” e-zine. We have about 3,000 subscribers to this service and of course, I do my best to convert them to paying VBA members!
I also do quite a bit of guest speaking at regional video association meetings, and offer a pretty substantial discount for membership if they sign up at the meeting.
The process for increasing sales and memberships is always the big challenge, isn’t it? I’ve found that videographers really don’t have a problem spending money on new equipment, but it’s harder for them to spend their bucks on what they consider “intangibles”—marketing and promotional materials that will help them MAKE more money. The ones that do—well, they’re a niche within a niche, and those are the ones I go after.
I’m looking forward to finding some good information within Mequoda to give me more ideas of how to shake the paying customers out of the bushes!
MEQUODA For Mequoda members who are devising premium content strategies for their online properties, any advice you would offer?
SY I look forward to the day that I can live comfortably on subscriptions and my own produce sales via my websites. But that day isn’t here yet. I think the best advice I can offer is to carefully research your target market; have faith in your ideas; plan to go WAY overboard on customer service and value; set a budget for promotions and operations and stick to it.
And above all, be persistent. Nothing good happens fast. The Video Business Advisor has taken a lot of my time and while major portions of it “run on automatic,” it STILL takes a lot of time to fine-tune the marketing and advertising process, not to mention the time spent on adding new products and articles to the public pages to attract prospective clients!
MEQUODA Do you have any advertising on your site?
SY I’ve considered advertising, but I don’t think we’re ready for it. We are getting maybe 200 unique hits a day. I don’t think it’s worth watering down our message right now. I’ve tried to remain somewhat unbiased, and have turned down equipment manufacturers who want to advertise on the front end of the site. That may not always be the case but for now, I just don’t think we’d make much money with advertising.
MEQUODA What’s your best advice to Mequoda members who are seeking to develop additional revenue streams outside of advertising for their online business?
SY Well, I have DVD’s, books, audio programs and other materials that I sell on other sites, through distributors and as well as by my own printed catalog. I’d say take your expertise, repackage it, and market it aggressively!
MEQUODA What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?
SY Learning how to code! It took me about a year and a dozen different HTML programs before, one day, I woke up, opened Dreamweaver (which I had always figured was WAY beyond my scope of comprehension) and went “Aha!”
Otherwise, marketing online is pretty much the same as marketing offline. Provide a great product, great customer service, make ’em an offer they can’t resist—and remember the value of persistence.
MEQUODA What tips would you pass on to aspiring publishers who want to start a subscription-based website?
SY See my earlier answer for that. And realize when you go into this, that unless you have a very hot subject and a target audience who you KNOW is willing to sign up by the droves and cheerfully pay you a good subscription rate, don’t expect to make millions overnight.
Building a successful business—online or off—is typically a gradual process. A friend of mine said “it’s like eating an elephant. It’s possible to do—if you do it one bite at a time.”
MEQUODA What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done? What’s the worst?
SY Giving our subscribers great deals on new products. For the most part, our subscribers are our most loyal customers. They trust me to deliver what I promise, they are always ready to have the newest tool to help them succeed, and they provide us with a lot of income from new products!
MEQUODA What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?
SY I belong to Mequoda. And yes, I recommend them highly. Although I would—like many others, I’m sure—like some real “exactly-how-to-do-it” information on how to get more subscribers!